Tribute to Mr Chris Murison, RBHS Headmaster 1986 – 1997

We received the sad news of the death this morning of Mr Chris Murison (E1957), the High School’s Headmaster from 1986 to 1997.
We extend our condolences to Erica, Andrew (E1998), Michael (E2001) and Peter (E2003) and the Murison family.

Chris was involved with every aspect of Rondebosch over 75 years as a Prep and High School boy, Old Boy, teacher, parent, Headmaster, supporter, Vice President of the Old Boys’ Union, editor of the Old Boys’ Union newsletter and revered elder of Rondebosch.

In recognition of the immense contribution which he made to Rondebosch in numerous ways over many years, in particular as Headmaster, the High School’s Knowledge Centre comprising the renovated Library, the new IT Centre and Common Room was named the ‘Chris Murison Centre’ in his honour in 2013.

Chris was educated at the Prep and High Schools, obtaining a first class matric pass in 1957 with distinctions in Latin and Mathematics.  He proceeded to UCT for fulltime and also part-time study while teaching at RBHS, graduating with the BSc(Hons) and BEd degrees, both with distinction.  Some years later he completed his academic studies at the University of Exeter where he was awarded the Master of Education degree in 1974.

His teaching career at Rondebosch started in 1963 where he was an excellent and highly respected Mathematics master and he also assisted with the teaching of Science, Accounting and English.  He was a mathematician of exceptional ability inspiring boys who excelled in the subject and sympathetically and conscientiously guided those who were not as mathematically inclined and provided many extra evening classes to generations of boys.

Chris was master in charge of shooting, was an outstanding cricket and rugby coach, and coached the Rondebosch First XI and First XV teams.  He was chosen to be in charge of the WP Nuffield Cricket and Craven Week Rugby teams in the same year reflecting his interest and exceptional ability.  He took an active part in school cultural activities and was a passionate driver of the house system encouraging participation in school activities by all boys.

Upon his return to Rondebosch after his post graduate studies in England he rapidly made his way up the teaching ranks.  His excellence as a teacher and administrator led to him becoming Vice-Principal of Plumstead High School in 1975 and this was soon followed by his appointment as Headmaster of Sea Point High School in 1977.  He returned to Rondebosch in 1986 as the High School’s eighth headmaster and is the only Old Boy to serve in that prestigious and important role.

Outside of Rondebosch his expertise and skills were to the benefit of professional bodies and committees, notably that of the South African Teachers’ Association.  He also served on the Rotary Board for a number of years, including as secretary and president.  Chris was also involved with the organisation of the annual UCT Mathematics Competition and was a senior examiner of Mathematics for the matric examinations.

Chris was approachable and accessible at all times, with an unfailing readiness to listen.  Despite his humility and apparent casual style, he had undoubted authority.  In staff meetings he guided discussions deftly and tactfully.  It took courage and grace to be a colleague among colleagues and the boss at the same time.  Yet he never abdicated his responsibility to lead, and when the need arose to speak with authority, he did.

Chris had an analytical brain and prodigious memory; he was an incisive thinker and could see the distant implications of decisions and issues.  He had incredibly high standards and a sharp eye for quality control.  Decisions were always taken with fairness, wisdom, immense integrity and for the overall good of Rondebosch, the school community and in particular the boys.

He also pressed for the school and its boys to be more involved with service to the community, in addition to the excellence in academic and sporting spheres.  On his arrival as headmaster he stated

Rondebosch boys must emerge as often as possible from their comfortable cocoon, both to render the community service their privileged position makes them capable of and also, for their own sakes, to become more aware from first hand experience, of the world they live in“.  And

The school must change in order to grow. It must grow in order to remain the leader it has been“.

As Headmaster Chris pushed for Rondebosch’s transformation in 1986 well before this was acceptable to the government of the time.  During that year both schools’ communities voted strongly in favour of Rondebosch being opened to boys of all races.  This request was however firmly blocked by the government.

Chris, and others at Rondebosch, were pivotal figures in the Open Schools’ Association which persevered for justice by wanting schools to have admission requirements which contained no reference to race.  The plea for Rondebosch to be opened to all races was rejected by the government throughout the 1980s.

In 1990 the government finally permitted schools to conduct referendums to ascertain the view of their community.  In a 94% poll held that year, an overwhelming 98% of Rondebosch parents concurred with the opening of Rondebosch to boys of all races.

Finally in late 1990 the government gave the long awaited approval.  Chris oversaw the transition of Rondebosch to a school where boys from all communities could be accepted.

Further legislation imposed much greater responsibility on the school and Governing Body in respect of management and financial affairs.  In particular, while the state continued to pay salaries all other costs had to be borne by the school itself.  This required a very much changed management structure and processes and the Headmaster’s duties were significantly changed and increased throughout the 1990s, a period of immense change in South Africa.

Chris retired as Headmaster at the end of 1997, and was closely involved with the numerous celebrations hosted by the two schools and the Old Boys’ Union marking Rondebosch’s Centenary that year.

Following his retirement Chris was invited to assist with the teaching of Mathematics at our sister school Rustenburg for 6 months.  He agreed to do so, and it evolved into a period of 15 years.  His character and expertise are encapsulated in the Rustenburg school magazine ~ “He thrills at seeing a new angle to a piece of Mathematics.  Young teachers who visit his classes find his natural approach to the subject somehow opens doors for those he teachers.  They have sat mesmerised by his engaging manner.  He can always be distracted to discuss mathematics that is outside the realm of the syllabus, but interesting.  For Mr Murison, Friday was the day when it was his pride to wear his Rondebosch Old Boys’ tie.  On Thursdays he sported his Tweetie tie or other cartoon ties, many given to him by learners who appreciated his quirky delight in comic things“.

Chris was elected as a Vice President of the Old Boys’ Union in 1998 and from time to time also took on the duties of Acting President when Mike Reeler was not able to officiate at formal events.  He was also a regular guest at Old Boys’ Sub-Union gatherings around South Africa keeping Old Boys informed about developments at the school and of Rondebosch achievements.  Due his long association with the Old Boys’ Union he was invited to be of editor of the popular Old Boys’ Union newsletter, a task which he undertook for close to a decade.

Chris Murison will be remembered and appreciated for his lifetime of dedication to education, his diligent leadership of the school during challenging times for education and in the history of our country and for his passion and support of Rondebosch.  He was part of Rondebosch for 75 years.  It is difficult to imagine the school and Old Boys’ Union without him.

On his retirement from Rondebosch Chris said “I look forward to years of reminiscing of the times spent here, as pupil, as teacher, as Head and to paraphrase John Denver – We talked of poems and prayers and promises, of things that we believed in.  How good it was to love this School, how right it was to care”.

Altius et Latius